I'm writing this tutorial to help everyone out there that has always wanted to bring their own custom race into the world of Oblivion but never knew where or how to start. I will model this tutorial after the Tang Mo race I recently completed. I will also cover what programs we will use, where to start, and all of the options that are available so that you can craft a truely unique race of your own. I only ask that you come into this with a bit of knowledge about models and textures, as I will not detail a lot of specifics concerning those aspects of the process.
- TES Construction Set - Often referred to as the "CS", this is your main tool as a modder. It is free to use, but only works if you have a full version of Oblivion installed on your PC. You will spend a lot of time using this.
- Imaging Software - You will need a program to use for editing your textures. I recommend Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is powerful for advanced users but newer users may prefer the free alternative program The Gimp.
3D Modelling Software - Similar to your imaging program, there are several different programs you can use for making and editing your models, I recommend either 3DS Max or Blender. 3DS Max must be bought while Blender is a FREE, open-source program.
- Nifskope - This is an excellent program for viewing models in 3D and testing out how your textures will apply to them visually. Nifskope has many other additional functions and is a good program to learn more specific aspects of, so check around for other tutorials on it if you're interested.
- Prerequisite Skills - Model handling and texturing will NOT be covered in this tutorial. We will be using what you should already know before starting this type of mod. There are plenty of tutorials already available to teach you the basic skills that you will need.
Okay, now you have all that, but where do you start?
As with any important project, you want to spend a good amount of time brainstorming and practicing. This does not have to be a strenuous process, and you have likely already begun to think about ideas for your race. Now is the time to start building on them with your various tools.
Personally, when I have an idea for a mod, I like to gather some reference images and possible source images so that I can look over what my end goal will hopefully look like and start deciding what will be needed to complete it. When starting the Tang Mo race, I began with the main feature; the face. I spent a great deal of time searching google for images of various primate faces that I felt accurately represented my vision of the race.
Next, try gathering a few of the models and textures that you will edit and use. I made a copy of the Imperial head model from my BSA files and placed it in a working file, then began trying new textures on it. To do this I created a UV map from within Nifskope, which I then took into Photoshop and started trying various versions of the face texture.
For my Tang Mo race, I was basing the appearance off of my interpretation of the race's appearance that I had gathered from the Elder Scrolls lore. I spent a lot of time researching, reading lore books, and asking questions in the lore forum. The most important tip is to know who or what you are creating and establish a consistent identity.
"Okay, so now I have an idea, show me the steps to build my new race!"
You can start the actual construction on your new race in severals ways, either with the visual appearance or the stats and attributes of the race itself. Being the visual person that I am, I decided to begin with the appearance of my race. No matter which way you choose, it is always good to take a look at the race menu in the CS to see what options you have at your disposal.
- Open Oblivion's TES Construction Set and go to File > Data. From here check the Oblivion.esm Master file and any other data files you may want to use (it is not recommended that you use a lot of others, as you will have to keep track of them throughout your construction of the race and it could lead to a 'dirty' mod if you plan to release it.) You will not need to set an active file as you will be making your own (which you will need to load in this method whenever you come back to work on the mod.) After a moment or two of loading, the CS will be ready. Now, at the top menu choose Characters > Races
Here's a brief overview of what you are seeing:
- Race ID's and Names - Shown in RED on your far left side, this should show all the usual Oblivion races that are built into Oblivion, as well as Dremora and Vampires.
Across the top of the window in BLUE you will see these tabs:
- General Data - Shown in Green, this is where you will edit your race's Attributes, Skills, and Specials, and Voices.
- Body Data - From here you will be able to link to your new models (from the neck down), view the hair and eyes that will be available for your race, set the defaults for hair and eyes, and adjust the height and weight of your race.
- Face Data - The face is one of the most complex features of your characters. You will be able to browse to new models and textures for all your various face parts here.
- Facegen Data - This is where you mold your basic race face with the facegen tools as well as see a preview of what the face will look like. Males and Females will be created automatically using special charateristics. Think of this as a "nuetral" looking face between the sexes.
- Text Data - This is where you actually name your class and enter a small bit of text describing your race (naturally your race should be checked as playable.) This will be displayed when you are choosing a character race/sex in-game.
- Reactions - This is your racial dispositions towards members of other races. Here you can change how much certain races like or dislike your race (any race not added will simply remain neautral towards yours.)
Now that you are ready, you will want to create a template race and begin customizing it. There is an option available for creating a brand new race from scratch but I would recommend making a copy of an existing race and then modifying it into a new race. This way you will not have to go through redundant motions but can focus on the differences of your race.
- Right-click any of the races on your left side of the Race ID/Name menu and choose duplicate.
Select the duplicated race under the EditorID section, then click again to rename the copy to whatever you want (leave out spaces.) We will Change the "second" version of the name next.
- Click on the Text Data tab at the top and change the race name as well (the EditorID is for your use in the CS, the Text Data name will be what is actually shown in game). You can also delete the race description section text for now, but remember to come back and add your own description later.
Be careful, it is VERY easy to accidently edit the information for the wrong race, so be sure that you always have YOUR race selected when you change options. If you have accidently edited part of another race, it is best to just click the cancel button and start over, as it can be more frustrating to try and rectify your mistakes. Since there is no way to actually delete accidental changes from your mod (you can ignore certain changes, but it clutters your .esp,) it is better to just start over.
- Browse through the various tabs and start editing anything else you want change. Usually attributes, skills, and hair/eyes are the easiest aspects of your race to edit.
To add/remove new hair and eye styles:
- Keep the race menu open, then click the Body Data tab to see the current hair/eyes for your race. Now, with that open, click Character > Eyes then Character > Hair from the top of the CS menu. From here, simply drag and drop the hair and eyes you want into their respective spots on the race menu (far right of this race tab) and close the hair/eyes menus when done. To remove existing choices, select the hair/eyes already listed in your race that you don't want, then simply press your delete button to remove them from your race list.
Now with all that started, we will want to go ahead and save our starter .esp file.
- Click OK on the race menu when you are happy with those first few changes (or else they won't save), then go to File > Save at the top of the CS and save your new .esp file in your Oblivion\Data file as something reconizable such as TangMo.esp (TangMo being the name of the race.)
Now go ahead and close the CS, in the future we will return here to add our new models and textures to our custom race.
For this next section you will need to have all your BSA files unpacked and stored somewhere on your computer. You can find a good tutorial on how to do this from the TES CS Wiki HERE.
We will start with the models. If you will be retexturing an existing type of race you will not need to move any mesh textures around. If by chance you will want to modify one of your models or swap out an existing "body part" (human ears on to an elvish race or a khajiit tale on to a human for example), you will need make copies of those files for editing like so:
- Browse to your BSA files in the windows explorer, then browse to the meshes\characters directory and choose the race that contains the item you are looking for. Next, browse to your main Oblivion installation at Oblivion\data\meshes and create any folder as needed in the same logical order as the BSA sets them up (for example: Oblivion\data\meshes\characters\tangmo\khajiittale.nif .)
With your models in place, you may want to copy your textures from the BSA folder to the Oblivion\Data install in a similar fashion by placing them in a textures folder respectivly. If you plan on making a custom texture you should now open your the matching mesh in Nifskope and create a UV map. You can find tutorials for creating UV maps from your models in other tutorials, so I will not go into further detail about this.
Now you can edit your copied models and textures to your heart's delight. Remember to try and keep some consistency between the various parts you work on (head, hand, feet, etc...). You will not want your feet and leg skin color to be drastically different. The only important thing to remember is that you DO NOT need the textures attached to the model .nif file (like you normally would with weapons and armor) for your facial parts. You have two seperate sections for models and textures in the Face Data tab. All the Body Data parts work just like weapons and will need the texture to be attached to the .nif file just as weapons and armor do.
Remember editing models will require modelling skills and creating textures will require some imaging skills, which will not be taught in this tutorial, so this part is entirely up to how you apply your skills and what your own mind can imagine.
With your new models and textures completed, go ahead and open up the CS again. We will simply need to start adding them into the CS Race menu. After loading everything up (be sure that you have all the same Data Files you did last time, as well as your own .esp that you saved the previous changes under,) go to Characters > Races to open your race menu, then browse over to your race's options (again, make sure you have YOUR OWN race selected).
- Browse to the Face Data tab and make sure your new models and textures are in their proper directories. Click the browse buttons for each new models such as "ears" and select your new ear model on the left side and the same for the ear texture on the right side.
- Note: MODELS=LEFT SIDE, TEXTURES=RIGHT SIDE
As with any mod and even Oblivion itself, make sure to save often, and definitely so when updating each new part of your race. I would also recommend starting slowly by updating one model/texture at a time and then testing in game, to ensure everything is working correctly (if there is going to be a problem, it's best to catch it early on). We will cover testing in the next section.
Check over your various tabs and make sure you have all the information filled out how you want it. Also make sure you have choosen your stats/skills/specials (these are completely up to you, but keep in mind while editing these that the balanced numbers are 320 total attribute points for each gender and 45 total skill points) and that models and textures are in the correct places. Also finish your basic adjustments to the face in the Facegen Data tab, be sure you have your race named and a short description added in the Text Data tab, and have set whatever racial reactions you want in the Reactions tab.
When you are satisfied with your race, save your progress and close the CS (closing the CS is optional but may slow your system if left open). Start your copy of Oblivion and MAKE SURE to enable your new mod in your Data Files section of the start-up menu. Now load the game and start a new character, then browse through the available races until yours appears (they are listed alphabetically, with the default being Imperial). If you do not see your race, check over everything you can in the CS, as well as make sure you enabled the mod in the Data Files (we all make silly mistakes!)
If your race is showing up correctly, start looking it over and seeing what is working and what is not. I noticed in my first few tests that my face looked great with the new texture but I was still using my original "copied" ears. This resulted in a Tang Mo face and Wood Elf ears!
From this point you will spend a lot of your time jumping back and forth from the CS and in-game as you make adjustments. If you are really worried that some of the new changes you are preparing to make may cause problems, consider making a copy of your .esp file and moving it to another location to keep as a backup. Continue tweaking until you get everything to your liking, as the most important aspect of the race is that you like it.
Remember it's ALWAYS a good idea to have friends playtest for you. Creating a work in progress thread in the Oblivion Forums is also a good method to get input from some of the people that will be using your mod (if you plan to release it). Don't forget who you are making the mod for.
I hope this has helped you, even though this is not the most detailed tutorial out there, it's a lot more than what I had to start with.
Have fun and joy your new race!